I was raised to believe in the power of the pickle. Turkey sandwiches required a layer of carefully blotted garlic dills. Giant dinner salads weren't done until the pickled beets were passed. And don't even get me started on the idea of a hot dog without some sour pickle relish. It was unthinkable.
My people just happen to like a good pucker.
During my childhood, our vinegar vehicles were the store-bought variety. All that changed about four years ago when I discovered just how easy it was to pickle at home. I haven't looked back since.
Homemade pickles aren't complicated, but there are a few things you should know before getting started.
5 Things to Know Before Pickling
- Always start with the freshest produce you can find. The less time those cucumbers spend in your crisper drawer, the crunchier your finished pickle will be.
- When you're working with cucumbers, make sure to slice off the blossom end. It can harbor an enzyme that will lead to softer pickles. And no one likes a soggy pickle.
- When you're chopping your pickles before packing them into the jars, take into consideration the number of cuts you're making. The larger the pieces, the more structural integrity the pickles will retain, again protecting that crunch. This means that whole pickles will always have more bite than spears, which will have more texture than slices. It's just something to keep in mind.
- One of the joys of making your own pickles is that you can customize the flavor to suit your taste buds. This doesn't mean you should go monkeying around with the balance of vinegar to water (that ratio needs to stay stable to keep your pickles safe), but you can alter the amounts of garlic, dill, peppercorns and chili flakes you add to each jar. Love garlic? Throw a couple more cloves in there! Can't stand spice? Skip the hot stuff altogether.
- Don't mess with the amount of salt. Salt does two necessary things in this recipe. First, it helps draw the water out of the cucumbers, creating space that the vinegar brine will then occupy. Second, it acts as a preservative, keeping your pickles fresher longer.
This recipe can either be made shelf stable or it can be a refrigerator pickle. For the shelf stable version, you give the jars a 10-minute dip in a boiling water bath in order to sterilize and put enough heat in the jars to create a seal (this does make for a slightly softer pickle). For a refrigerator pickle, once the jars have cooled, they can go into the fridge.
Either way, give them at least a week before you crack open the jar, so that they get nice and puckery.
About the author: Marisa McClellan is a food writer, canning teacher, and dedicated pickler who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her jams, pickles and preserves (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars.